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‘It seems rather cruel’: Private school heads hit out at delayed HSC

“Holding the HSC as late as possible gives students and teachers more time to be vaccinated,” she said. “I am working with my parliamentary colleagues and NSW Health to create as many additional opportunities as possible for students and teachers to be vaccinated.”

Under the government’s staggered back to school plan, year 12 – alongside kindergarten and year 1 – are to return to classrooms first, on October 25. Other years follow over the next two weeks, so the entire student body will be back on November 8. This only applies to schools outside hotspots.

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The International Baccalaureate exams, sat by about 700 Sydney students, begin on October 25.

The headmaster of Sydney Grammar, Richard Malpass, said he was concerned the beginning of the HSC exams in early November would coincide with the return of other year groups, most of them still unvaccinated.

“[It’s] a week which surely will be the highest risk for COVID transmission in schools, leading to potentially numerous school closures,” he said. “It seems rather cruel to tell HSC students now to wait two and a quarter months to sit what might end up being only some of their HSC examinations.”

Julie Greenhalgh, principal of Meriden in Strathfield, said exams should begin on October 25 if year 12 students were allowed to return to school then. “The students are waiting to complete their exams ASAP,” she said. “The delay is agonising for them.”

Tim Bowden, the headmaster of Trinity Grammar, also said the HSC should run from October 25 if that’s when health advice allowed them to return. “It would be far easier to run exams in a COVID-safe way when the campus is empty of other students, rather than after they have all returned,” he said.

“Maintaining student motivation and engagement in remote mode for that length of time, particularly if the full range of exams is not scheduled, is going to be very difficult.”

Ross Whelan, the principal of Thomas Hassall Anglican School at West Hoxton, near Liverpool, which is one of the original areas of concern, said the November 9 plan created a divide.

“[It] involves disadvantage and uncertainty for students in the LGAs of concern,” he said. “There is a high risk that cases will continue to exceed 50 cases per 100,000 people in eight weeks’ time, as they do now, which will make a safe return on October 25 uncertain.”

Mr Whelan believes the written exams should be abandoned, with assessments and past marks used instead. “Let’s look after the well-being of students who should not be expected to maintain their additional efforts for another two months in such uncertain times,” he said.

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However, Craig Petersen, the head of the Secondary Principals Council, which represents about 400 public high schools, said the reaction from his members had varied. “There are some who are welcoming the additional time to prepare students, especially those schools that have been heavily impacted by lockdown,” he said.

“There’s some who think that year 12 has had so much stress and anxiety they want it done earlier. There’s some calling for the complete abandonment of the exams.

“This is one of those examples where you just can’t please everyone. What it does do, in terms of the safety of our students and staff, that extra couple of weeks gives more people the opportunity to be vaccinated and hopefully fully vaccinated.”

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